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  • Leading Psychologists Reveal Some of Their Own Inner Demons

    Today, I recommend checking out the British Psychological Society's Research Digest. BPS asked over 20 of the world's leading psychologists to confess (in 150 words or less) to one nagging thing they still don't understand about themselves.Witty, charming, and by definition insightful, the psychologists' answers are well-worth reading. Richard Wiseman's piece wondering where comedy comes from made me chuckle; Robert Plomin's thoughts on parenting and genetic influence reminded me how much Po and I want to delve into this work – and how many questions are still left unanswered. But, read the essays as a group, and I think the scholars' replies offer an even broader insight.For example, evolutionary psychologist David Buss has studied the way men frequently – and incorrectly –  believe that women's friendliness towards them is an indication of sexual interest. He knows that men get this wrong all the time; however, in the moment, Buss confesses...
  • Marshmallow Boy vs. The Pokemon Kid – The Neuroscience of Children’s Passions

    If I could use subtitles on this blog, this one would read: Why the most famous study of child-distraction is itself a huge distraction.But give me a minute to set this up.Over at The Daily Beast today, I have an essay about how Pokemon changed my son’s brain. Or at least that’s how The Daily Beast is packaging the story. The real point of the article is that my son’s passion changed his brain. Passion, or motivation, is experienced by the brain as the spritz of dopamine. Dopamine increases neural signaling speed – the brains performs better and learns better. Think of dopamine as the turbocharger for learning. You want dopamine on your child’s brain. You want your child motivated.In my son’s case, because he was in love with Pokemon, he used the cards to learn math and reading. And because he loved Pokemon, he did a lot of math and reading, which made him very good at both. Prior to his love of Pokemon, he was entirely unexceptional at either. Now I want to talk about how passion...
  • Playing the “Conditional Love” Card

    It’s interesting to see the term “conditional love” reenter the zeitgeist, as Ashley wrote about yesterday. Conditional love, everyone can well remember, is being hot and cold with a child – accepting them only when they are polite, honest, bring home good grades, get into name-brand colleges, and marry well. Generations went into therapy and realized this was the dominant loving-style of their parents; it traumatized them by making them feel that any natural exploration off the predetermined path was taboo. Individualism and curiosity were forbidden – children felt like showpieces, useful only to impress other parents at the country club.Since the dawn of the age of therapy, we’ve all understood that conditional love was the wrong message to send children. Unconditional love is what kids need. Ever since, we’ve heard the emphasis on unconditional love. Conditional love is almost unspeakable, unmentionable – something we were supposed to eradicate from children’s lives, like lead...
  • Abstinence-Only Education Is Back

    After weeks of railing against the price tag of health-care reform, Senate Republicans managed to bond over pumping up the budget for one aspect of health-care reform yesterday: abstinence-only education. Proposed by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the amendment reinstates $50 million in funding for abstinence-only education that President Obama had previously removed in his budget proposal earlier this year. Committee Republicans were joined by Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Kent Conrad in voting up the measure, which passed 12-11....
  • Are Time-outs for Tots Conditional Love?

    Recently, in the New York Times' science section and Motherlode blog, education writer Alfie Kohn argued that both praise and punishment are equally bad for kids. Essentially his point was that praise and punishment both teach a child that our love for them is conditional – we only care for them when they succeed and stay out of trouble. Accordingly, Kohn thinks that parents should not praise or punish their kids. From no dessert to time-outs and groundings, "What a good job!" and trophies – it all should be thrown out the window. If parents do so any of those terrible things, Kohn warns, children are hostile, resentful, and likely end up in therapy.His pieces have left parents across the nation scratching their heads; they were left feeling incredibly helpless and unsure about how to parent. While Kohn's made some interesting points in the past, we think that Kohn went way too far in both pieces for two reasons. First, he overstated the science he had to support...
  • Clarifying the Science of Building Early Language Skills

    In today’s Science Times, Jane E. Brody conveys a dozen tips on how to develop infants’ and toddlers’ acquisition of language. She makes several very important points – the most vital one being don’t listen to an iPod while pushing your infant in a stroller, because you can’t hear the infant’s vocalizations and then respond accordingly. However, several other tips in the article contradict the scientific record and need clarification.1. Baby Talk. Brody’s article suggests that when parents use Baby Talk, it confuses toddlers. We’ve heard this concern often, but the science is remarkably clear on this point – Baby Talk clarifies language for kids, well into their second year. The scientific term for the speech pattern of Baby Talk is parentese – the emotional affect is giddily upbeat and the vowels are stretched, with highly-exaggerated pitch contours.** It’s not cultural – it’s almost universal. The phonetic qualities help infants and toddlers distinguish discrete sounds. Many...
  • What is Mature, Extended, Pretend Play – Exactly?

    On Sunday, Paul Tough published an article in the New York Times Magazine about how the Tools of the Mind curriculum for preschools and kindergartens enhance children’s self-control. He covered the some of same ground as we did in our chapter of NurtureShock, and it was nice to see the material covered thoughtfully by another journalist. (Full disclosure: Tough has been Po’s occasional editor, but we had no input or influence on his reporting.)So we thought we spend some more time addressing the 60 to 90 minute section at the core of Tools – mature pretend play. How does it unfold, and how can this be recreated at your preschool, or even in your home?In a typical Tools classroom, the majority of the room is split up into several different centers, each decorated to look like a different location. Before the kids ever play in any one center, they spend a week learning about the location it represents. If the new location is a fire station, they read storybooks about life in a fire...
  • Does Labeling Bias as "Bullying" Hide the Real Problem?

    Yesterday, we were struck by Tony Dokoupil's piece on Alex Merritt, a young man bullied by his teachers. As Dokoupil movingly reported, the taunts were cruel, and the remarks were almost entirely based on the teachers' allegations that Merritt was a homosexual. Of course, the fact the bullying was spearheaded by teachers – then spread to the student-body – makes the situation seem all the more unforgivable. But it reminded us of the work of University of Arizona professor, Stephen T. Russell. Russell went to public and private schools in California, surveying 235,000 kids in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades. Russell asked each student if he had been bullied within the past 12 months, and if they answer was yes, to describe the incident. 37.4% of the kids said that they had been bullied. Then Russell broke that data down by category. 14% of the kids had been bullied because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin. 9.1% of the kids said they'd been bullied because of...
  • High School Grades vs. The SAT vs. Family Income

    My posts over the last two days compared how the SAT predicts college success against Emotional Intelligence scores. I received a lot of emails in response, and the vast majority of them were readers telling me their individual story through the statistics that defined their life. People would list their SAT score, name the college they attended, and then state their college GPA. Often their stories continued into their adult years, as their GPA rose over time, or jumped dramatically when they hit graduate school and were finally studying a subject of genuine interest. Sometimes, in place of grad school GPAs, people told me their annual income. I wasn't sure what to do with these stories, because they were sent to me as evidence of how the SAT does, or does not, predict the near future. However, while each anecdote is true and has integrity, no single anecdote proves or disproves the point. The statistics are cumulative of everyone's story. So this brings up an interesting...
  • In Defense of the SAT

    One of the most popular ideas of our time is the notion that in judging a young person’s future success, we’ve become imbalanced, giving too much credence to whether a child has learned the stuff of textbooks, and too little value to whether that child has learned the stuff of real life. The latter is a whole constellation of behaviors and skills, from creativity to emotional-intelligence to self-discipline to practical judgment. In this modern paradigm, the elements of real life success are characterized as highly generalizable, useful everywhere from the urban street corner to the boardroom. Meanwhile, the elements that go into book learning are characterized as being narrowly applicable, useful only for getting into college, at which point the other factors take over. No matter who is making this argument–whether it’s Daniel Goleman, Dan Pink, Robert Sternberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Stanley, or some college president–it always stands on a few key bricks. One of those bricks is...
  • The Problem with Teaching Kids about Stranger Danger

    On Saturday, The New York Times ran a thoughtful piece by Jan Hoffman about whether kids can walk to school by themselves. In the US, just 13% of kids are walking or biking to school, down from 41% in 1969. (That drop, as steep as it is, is nothing compared to what's happened in the UK: Gill Valentine found that, in 1971, 80% of British children were responsible for getting themselves to school. By 1990, that figure was just 9%.)Hoffman took pains to show both sides of this agonizing issue – the tradeoff between absolute safety and the desire to encourage kids some small amount of responsibility and self-efficacy. I was very happy to see Hoffman’s story picked up by others such as the Today Show. But I'd like to go a bit further on a related issue – how we talk to kids about "stranger danger," and how much parents let their anxieties be felt by their children. It's one thing to tell a kid not to accept candy from a stranger, that a kid shouldn't go...
  • By Third Grade, Black Students Who Self Segregate Are More Popular

    We have this image that friendships in schools today are all High School Musical HSMThe odds of a white high-schooler having a best friend of another race are actually only about 8 percent. And the story isn't much better for minorities, either: for black kids, 85 percent of their best friends are black, too. The long-accepted solution to this problem has been school diversity. But the science is quite clear that this solution has failed to fix the problem: as schools get more diverse, kids just tend to self-segregate more, so kids in more diverse schools end up not having more friends of other races. Kids in diverse schools do not necessarily have better racial attitudes, and commonly have worse.Fifty-five years after Brown v. Board, why do kids choose to self-segregate? Why do they accept it?In NEWSWEEK magazine this week, we suggested that part of the problem stems from white parents' refusal to talk to their young children about race and ethnicity. This inadvertently...
  • Can Extracurricular Activities Solve the Self-segregation Problem?

    In American high schools today, it’s taken as a given that extracurricular activities bring students of different races together. What’s more, it’s on clubs and sports teams that the conditions of Allport’s Contact Theory are actually met – students are working together toward a single goal, rather than competing against each other. Duke University’s Dr. James Moody, who studies social networks, has written, “The strongest effect of school organization on racial friendship is through extracurricular mixing. Schools that succeed in mixing students by race in extracurricular activities have lower levels of racial friendship segregation.” Other research has shown that extracurricular activities are the #1 place that interracial friendships get started.In other words, if school districts can widely integrate their sports teams and clubs, then they might see less self-segregation in the hallways and lunchrooms.It fell to another Duke University scholar, Dr. Charles Clotfelter, to figure...
  • How Obama's Speech to Kids Became Political Theater

    In 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger launched, school teacher Christa McAuliffe was among the crew. Awed and inspired by McAuliffe, teachers and students across the country watched the launch live in their classrooms. Thousands of school children were glued to television screens when, horrifyingly, the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds after takeoff, killing everyone on board. At the time, Chester E. Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an educational think tank, worked for the Reagan administration in the Department of Education. When Reagan decided to address the nation about the Challenger disaster that evening, Finn recalls school children being encouraged to watch the president's speech to help them deal with the trauma. "That was one of his fine moments," Finn recalls of Reagan's speech. "Not one single solitary soul that I am aware of criticized him." But today, if the response to President Obama's address to school children...
  • The Four Conditions of Intergroup Contact

    You've probably never heard of Gordon Allport. But his research affects the lives of everyone in the U.S., on a daily basis, and it has done so for over 50 years. Back in 1954, Allport was one of 32 social scientists who had signed on to what was known as "the social science statement" – a document included in the NAACP's submissions to the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board. In the social science statement, the scholars enumerated the damaging psychological effects of racial segregation.  One of Allport's theories – something he called "contact theory" – was one of the underpinnings for the scientists' work. The modern premise behind desegregation is that when people are exposed to people of different races and ethnicities, that will inherently reduce their racial bias – and that concept is often described as Allport's contact theory. However, that's a misnomer. Allport didn't postulate that merely throwing people together will...
  • Full Text of Obama's Speech to Schoolchildren

    The White House released the text of the president's speech to the nation's schoolchildren yesterday. As promised, the speech urges children to work hard and stay in school. Obama exhorts children to take responsibility for their own education, telling them it is OK to ask for help when it's needed. "We can...
  • The White-Nonwhite Gap in Racial Acceptance

    Dr. Walter Stephan, a professor emeritus at New Mexico State University,made it his life’s work to survey students’ racial attitudes after their first year of desegregation. He is one of the most respected scholars in the field,and he is fervently supportive of school integration. It’s important to note this in advance, because there’s two broad conclusions to be drawn from his data, both of which made me uncomfortable to confront. The first, tragic conclusion is that school integration just as often decreases racial acceptance as improves it.But right now, we want to focus on the second conclusion:white students come out looking worse when it comes to racial attitudes.Stephan found that in only 16 percent of the desegregated schools examined, the attitudes of whites toward African-Americans became more favorable. In 48 percent of the schools, white students’ attitudes toward blacks became worse. African-American attitudes were also mixed, but overall were significantly less dismal....
  • Khamenei Cracks Down on Iran's University Students

    For almost the first time since June's contested election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seemed confidently at the helm last week when nearly all his cabinet picks were approved by Parliament. He even signaled a willingness to restart nuclear talks. But the regime's hardliners haven't backed down from their persecution of political rivals and are now turning their attention to a potent new threat: the start of the school year. Throughout history, universities from Beijing to Berkeley have served as petri dishes for dissent, and with classes beginning this month in Iran, a widespread crackdown is likely. At a gathering of university professors last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an attack against academia when he claimed that "many of the liberal arts and humanities are based on philosophies whose foundations are materialism" and can "lead to the loss of belief in godly and Islamic knowledge." He asked the government to pay ...
  • The Red-Herring Solution for Redshirting Kindergartners

    A follow-up to yesterday's post on redshirting.Looking at Bedard and Dhuey's study, both Malcolm Gladwell and Elizabeth Weil highlighted a particular quirk in the scholars' findings. On average, in Denmark and Finland, kids born earlier in the year performed no differently from those born later. And in both nations, kids don't start primary school until the age of 7.Both reports sort of left you with the impression that the best way to level the playing field in America was to follow Denmark and Finland’s model─keep kids out of any schooling until they are 7 or older. As if kids in Northern Europe spend their early years just dancing through some sort of Rousseauian frozen tundra─and that American kids' development is cruelly slowed because of all this kindergarten.The reality is that the Finnish and Danish kids don't wait to begin school. They actually begin their education much earlier.The year before they start primary school, 98 percent of Danish...
  • Should Children Redshirt Kindergarten?

    Every September, the class of incoming American kindergartners is ever slightly older.In the U.S., kids who start kindergarten must be at least 5 years old. In theory, that seems like a clear-cut, easy enough rule─like the "You must be this tall to go on this ride" sign at an amusement park. But what’s driving the trend toward an older kindergarten class is the increasing number of 6-year-old “redshirted” kids whose parents have delayed their entry.In 1980, about 10 percent of kindergartners were redshirted. Since then, the proportion has doubled.It seems that fewer parents are comfortable with their child being one of the youngest in the class, the runts of the litter. By simply holding them back, parents can ensure their child begins the rat race as one of the oldest, most mature kids in class.It’s not surprising that the older kindergartners, on average, are slightly better students when they begin school. The real question is, does that initial age advantage last, or...
  • Does Being Older Help Your Child Win a Gifted Slot?

    Last week, The New York Times noticed that we’d singled out New York City’s gifted-and-talented testing and placement process for flouting the science and being the No. 1 worst offender. We’d surveyed the 20 largest school districts in the country; all of them anoint kids as gifted before third grade, but New York fills the vast majority of its slots in kindergarten, allowing scant room for late bloomers. And once in the gifted system, children never have their intelligence retested. As we noted in NurtureShock, late bloomers are extremely common─fully one third of the highest-achieving third graders scored below average on kindergarten entrance tests. It’s important to note we’re not the only ones singling out New York. At the American Psychological Association’s annual conference in Toronto last month, a special panel was convened to discuss the problems with testing for giftedness so young. City University of New York’s Frances Horowitz, editor of a handbook on giftedness, took...
  • Too Dangerous for College

    By Christopher FlavelleOn Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that beer maker Anheuser-Busch has scaled back a promotion called “Fan Cans” in which the company targeted college students by painting cans of Bud Light in school colors. Anheuser-Busch got a push from the Federal Trade Commission, which was “concerned that cans will be marketed to fans under the legal age of 21.” In response, the company agreed to stop selling the special-edition cans where colleges objected....
  • Are Jocks Jerks? Kids, Sports and Life Lessons

     A three-part series on the role sports play in childhood development.  Depending on one’s high-school experience, there are two distinct philosophies about the role sports plays in a child’s development. There’s the idea that youth sports teaches kids discipline and respect, keeps them off the street, and helps them mature into adults: it’s sports that turned athletically gifted but insecure Daniel Larusso into The Karate Kid. But just as pervasive is the opinion that jocks are jerks, and kids who play sports are mean bullies who will do anything to win, who need to dominate their opponents and who carry that aggressiveness streak off the field. Kids who play sports, this line of thinking goes, are more like Johnny Lawrence, star athlete (and big-time bully) from the Cobra-Kai dojo. A recent study in the journal Developmental Psychology suggest that jocks really are jerks—if they focus exclusively on sports at the expense of other more-well rounded programs. But kids who both play...
  • Men on TV Are Such Wimps

    We TV is rolling out the fifth batch of its docuseries The Secret Lives of Women, which rummages through the dirty laundry of the fairer sex. Munchausen moms, phone-sex operators, and Wiccan priestesses reveal their unorthodox lives and the lengths to which they go to maintain them. There's no equivalent show for men, and if there were, even the title The Secret Lives of Men would sound silly. Men, it seems, don't have interesting secrets, and as TV fodder, they're worthless.There's no better evidence than Fox Reality's new series Househusbands of Hollywood. It's a gender-flipped version of Bravo's eminently bloggable Real Housewives franchise, and on paper, Househusbands sounds like it could be compelling. How do these men reconcile their domestic roles with the societal pressure to be the breadwinners? I had those questions going in, but as I watched the husbands—former baseball player Billy, ex-Marine Grant, sometime actor Danny, etc.—I found myself wondering what their wives...
  • Why I Let Go of My Ivy League Dream

    Reaching is great, but be careful not to overlook a less-well-known winner. The more pragmatic choice might just turn out to be your ideal one, too.
  • How to Develop a Strategy for Taking the SATs

    Let's recap the good news—you now have more flexibility when it comes to your SAT scores and what colleges will actually use to evaluate your application. Ideally, this takes some of the anxiety out of the test-day experience and helps ensure you get a chance to showcase your best performance to the admissions committee.But with this new set of choices, many students are reporting anxiety over how to think through this decision—should they send one score? All scores? Some scores? Which scores?The first thing to keep in mind is that most colleges genuinely want to use your highest test score. In fact, most colleges have adopted the College Board's Score Choice policy, which allows students to selectively submit their score(s). Even many schools that have "opted out" of Score Choice have suggested that they will continue to "super score" students' test scores (i.e., take the highest sectional score from each test and combine them). This means that if you're applying to a school that...